It is that time of year again. We have turned the clocks back and returned to standard time. In my home state of Massachusetts, it now gets dark at 5 p.m. By the time of the winter solstice, it will be getting dark at 4 p.m. For those of us who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, it is time to get ready for the darkness – not only the actual extended night outside, but the emotional interior darkness that goes along with it.
Depression is hard to describe to someone who has never experienced it. Those who have been blessed to have escaped this particular affliction often say things like “Think positive,” or “Snap out of it,” or “Choosing to be depressed in a sin because you have lost your trust in God.” They mean well, but they truly do not understand.
When someone is depressed, nothing has much meaning. There is little or no hope. You feel worthless and that life is not worth living. The darkness descends upon you and it feels as if there is no escape. You either want to sleep all the time or have difficulty sleeping.
Depression is not a choice. While it can be brought on by a traumatic event, just as often it is brought on by a chemical imbalance in the body. Some people are just naturally prone to it. Especially in women, hormonal shifts due to monthly cycles or pregnancy can be brutal. Lack of sleep has an impact. Lack of natural light can also be a huge factor.
Depression can hit suddenly. I have compared it to being hit over the head by a two by four. I can be fine one day and wake up the next feeling nothing but despair. Perhaps the hardest part is not knowing when the darkness will lift.
How then does one cope? I am not a mental health professional. These suggestions come only from my personal experience of suffering from depression for nearly twenty-five years, but I hope that they may be of help. Also, please note that children can suffer from depression as well. If your child is having difficulty, please do not ignore their symptoms.
1) Seek professional help – there is no shame in asking for help. Some cases of depression are so severe that they require medication. If you are at risk of harming yourself or someone else, seek immediate care. Even with milder cases, simply having someone to talk with on a regular basis can be a tremendous help.
2) Keep busy – Keeping your mind occupied with other things helps keep the negative self-talk at bay. Accomplishing a given task can also help alleviate the feelings of worthlessness, at least for a while.
3) Take care of yourself, body and soul – eat well, exercise, and pray. These three things can go a long way in maintaining emotional equilibrium.
4) Invest in some full spectrum light bulbs – I always thought one needed a light box to get any benefit from light therapy, but they are costly so I resisted the idea. Last year I discovered that full spectrum light bulbs can help achieve similar results. These light bulbs are available at department or hardware stores and cost only a bit more than regular bulbs. They come in various styles and can be used in most light fixtures. They made a huge difference!
5) Know that this, too, will pass – It doesn’t seem like it when you are going through it, but the darkness will end. The light will come again. Keep believing in that fact.